Indigenous knowledge around the ethics of human research from the Oceania region: a scoping literature review

Lovo, Etivina, Woodward, Lynn, Larkins, Sarah, Preston, Robyn, and Baba, Unaisi Nabobo (2021) Indigenous knowledge around the ethics of human research from the Oceania region: a scoping literature review. Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine, 16. 12.

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Background: Many indigenous people have died or been harmed because of inadequately monitored research. Strong regulations in Human Research Ethics (HRE) are required to address these injustices and to ensure that peoples’ participation in health research is safe. Indigenous peoples advocate that research that respects indigenous principles can contribute to addressing their health inequities. This scoping literature review aims to analyze existing peer reviewed and grey literature to explore how indigenous values and principles from countries of Oceania are incorporated into HRE and the governance of research involving human participants.

Methods: A scoping literature review framework was used for this study. A search for peer reviewed and grey literature from Google, bibliographies, and electronic databases such as SCOPUS, SPRINGER, Medline (Ovid) and JBI Database of Systematic Reviews was conducted, limited to the years 2002–2020. Sixty (60) documents that focused on indigenous knowledge from Oceania region and HRE were included, from which key findings and themes were synthesized.

Results: Charting the data showed that more than half the eligible documents were peer-reviewed journal articles (54%). Other sources included: International Declarations on Human Research (8%); book chapters (8%); government documents (8%); HRE Guidelines or protocols (13%); news articles (7%) and PhD thesis (2%). The literature was from Australia, Cook Islands, Guam, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu, some of which focused specifically on HREs in the Pacific Region. Issues emerging from the literature were grouped into five themes (i) indigenous and cultural principles of HRE; (ii) informed consent in indigenous settings in Oceania; (iii) vulnerability and minority status of indigenous populations exploited for research; (iv) research ethics governance for Oceania indigenous peoples; and (v) research ethics committees in Oceania. Respect, relationship building, and trust were priority indigenous HRE principles that encompass the principles of partnership, capacity building, reciprocity, and equality. Relationship building and trust imply the equal distribution of benefits for indigenous population and researchers.

Conclusion: Indigenous principles of HRE identified were interconnected and interdependent. Recommendations were to incorporate indigenous principles of research in HRE regulations and processes of all countries with indigenous populations. This is especially pertinent for emerging national research committees in LMIC countries, including Fiji and Tonga. Relationship building among researchers and indigenous populations is key to successful research with indigenous populations. HRE principles important for relationship building include respect that is reciprocal among researchers and indigenous people. Elements of the principle of respect highlighted are empathy, collaboration, sharing of benefits, reciprocity, appreciation, empowerment, protection, safety and awareness of culture and languages. Indigenous ontology from the Oceania region involves spirituality, connectedness to land, religious beliefs and a participatory approach to HRE and should be respected in research. An ethical governance mechanism of HRE is one that incorporates indigenous principles and applications for the purpose of maximizing the protection of the dignity and rights of indigenous peoples of Oceania.

Item ID: 70892
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1747-5341
Keywords: Ethics, Oceania, Pacific, Indigenous research ethics principles, Values, Human research ethics committees
Copyright Information: © The Author(s) 2021. Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2021 00:56
FoR Codes: 42 HEALTH SCIENCES > 4203 Health services and systems > 420319 Primary health care @ 100%
SEO Codes: 21 INDIGENOUS > 2111 Pacific Peoples health > 211103 Pacific Peoples health system performance @ 100%
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